Effects of Your Attorney’s Death
Many might wish their attorney dead, however, when it does actually happen, it might cause a mess of your legal case. The death of an active attorney is not very common. However, if it were to happen to your case, there are certain steps that you can take. If you find yourself asking, “What happens when my attorney dies?”, then you are going to be very interested in reading this article.
The status of your case will mostly hinge on whether your attorney was part of a larger firm and what stage your case is currently at. There are many scenarios that could hinge on these two factors so they should each be analyzed individually.
Size of Your Attorney’s Firm
If your lawyer is part of a firm of two or more attorneys, then it is probable that one of the other attorneys is at least slightly aware of your case. They may not know every element of what is happening with you case, but they will likely have a broad understanding of what your legal situation is.
It is very common for some partnerships to cover each other’s cases. In this scenario, when conflicts or vacations occur, each attorney would be able to cover each other’s cases. You might get lucky to find out that the other attorney has worked on your case and is very familiar with your particular circumstances. In this instance, you would just need to get in contact with the other attorney(s) of the firm and get back on track.
If your attorney was practicing on his own, which is very common, no one else is likely to be familiar with your case facts. Is this scenario, you should quickly find another attorney that can take your case. When you hire a new attorney, you will need to contact the administrative person of your deceased attorney’s office and get all of your case files. The case files should include all of your documents including documents, emails and letters that the attorney may have created for your case. Everything in your file (including any anything that you have given your attorney) should be returned to you as they are your property.
Status of Your Case
If your attorney has dies in the middle of your case and you are preparing for trial, there may be a delay in your trial date if you need to hire a new attorney. However, you should hire your new attorney as soon as possible so that there is not an unnecessary delay. When your attorney files for a substitution of attorney with the court, he or she will likely be able to secure more time to prepare for trial or any future hearings. The down side of this situation is that you are likely going to have to pay more because your new attorney will have to learn your case all over again.
Get Your Retainer Back
If you end up having to hire another attorney, you should ask the administrative person of your deceased attorney’s office to get you an accounting of how many hours your attorney has worked on your case. If you have money in a trust account, you should be able to reference that accounting and determine how much money you should be refunded. The money that you receive back from your deceased attorney can be used to retain the new attorney that you hire.
If, for any reason, you are not able to contact someone for an accounting or to get a check back for the rest of your retainer, you should contact your local bar association as soon as possible.
Matt Pfau is an attorney and founding partner at the law firm Lawyers Plus. Matt has a background in business consulting, estate planning, business start-ups and bankruptcy and is licensed to practice in both Nevada and California. A partner in the firm Lawyers Plus, he can be reached at 702-912-4451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.